Canadian Gordon Grdina and American Jim Black cannily invest this album’s thirteen tracks with multiple textures from two instruments each: Grdina playing guitar and oud, and Black using drums and electronics. The augmentation doesn’t follow the expected course though, with the additional instrumentation leading to neither faux–world music exotica nor an over-reliance on voltage.
Instead, during the improvisations, which range from slightly longer than one minute to about six and a half, the duo defines unique grooves and expands on them to greater or lesser degrees. With tough guitar strumming and concentrated drum rebounds on a track like “Brushes with Death,” the stacked timbres could come from a metal band that favours storytelling over smashing tumult. On “Conservative Conversation,” the oud’s Maghrebian textures may prompt Black to respond with ratcheting, doumbek-like clatters, but the subsequent multi-fingered string frails and the percussion backbeat are more familiar in jazz than in Jaffa. The sophisticated players’ narratives are dark and atmospheric as well as lively and cadenced. They use electricity sparingly: the oscillation and wave splashes on “Buggy Whip,” for instance, pierce the nearly opaque fuzz-tone guitar and percussion clumps to create more expressive and balanced lines.
Grdina and Black are neither Martians nor kitties, but the singular program they improvise here fits the oddball album title that distinguishes it from more commonplace discs.